Daytona Beach, Fla. – Twelve drivers arrived in Florida, champing at the bit to get behind the wheel and show their talents at the 2017 NASCAR Drive for Diversity Combine presented by Honda Generators. But before they could put the cars in gear, they were put through a battery of tests designed to evaluate their off-track preparation and skills that will be equally invaluable to their dreams of moving up the NASCAR ladder.
The drivers were put through a series of stations at Bethune-Cookman University to evaluate their skills in different media settings as well as a physical training assessment.
“Driving a race car is a physical moment: You need upper-body strength, you need hand-eye coordination, but mainly you need muscle endurance,” said Phil Horton, who oversees the physical training program with Rev Racing. “You drive a car for three and a half hours and there doesn’t look like there are a lot of strenuous movements there. But you’re holding a steering wheel all day. In order to have muscle endurance, you first need to have muscle strength.”
Fans are seeing more drivers active on different areas outside of racing, whether it’s Jimmie Johnson running triathlons or Dale Earnhardt Jr. posting recaps of his long weekend bike rides via the Relive app. That’s trickled down to the younger drivers like Chase Elliott and Ricky Stenhouse Jr., who’ve incorporated cycling or Crossfit into their daily routines.
“The mental toughness of being in shape is important — one of the things we’re looking for is their work ethic,” said Horton. “You need to get in the gym early in the morning. You need to do those situps, you need to do those pushups, you need to lift those weights. Not necessarily like athletes in other sports. But just do them on a consistent basis. Without that fitness part of it, you’re doing something every day that’s preparing you to be a driver.”
Both the combine and the team will feature an enhanced focus on seat time to increase competition at the combine and on the track next season. Since 2010, Rev Racing has managed the NASCAR Drive for Diversity team. It’s compiled 17 wins among six different drivers and produced national series race winners Kyle Larson, Daniel Suarez and Darrell Wallace Jr. Earlier this year, Rev Racing’s Macy Causey became the first female driver in the 61-year history of South Boston Speedway to win a Late Model Stock Car feature.
Ernie Francis Jr. is second-generation driver who is getting his first taste of the NASCAR Drive for Diversity Combine. A multi-time champion in Trans-Am Series presented by Pirelli, the 19-year-old from south Florida is looking to make a good impression.
“It’s something new for me; I come from a road-racing background,” said Ernie Francis Jr. “I’m used to a lot of the media stuff with everything I’ve done in my career. But some of the NASCAR stuff they do, I’m not too used to right now.
“The physical assessment, I’m a pretty active driver and try to stay physically fit with some of the endurance races I do. I think I’ll do all right here and we’ll see how it goes tomorrow when I get on track.”
In addition to their time with Horton, the drivers also participated in mock press conference panels as well as conducted one-on-one interviews with Bethune-Cookman’s radio station, WRWS-LPFM 99.1. They also took a version of the Wunderlich, specifically designed from a driver attribute standpoint. The test will help with the overall evaluation of the drivers for selection. It will also be utilized to help Rev Racing determine the crew chief pairings for the 2018 season and overall team dynamic.
The NASCAR Drive for Diversity competitors are scheduled to test at New Smyrna Speedway on Tuesday in a Late Model Stock Car and Wednesday in a NASCAR K&N Pro Series car.
In addition to being sponsored by Honda Generators, the Combine received sponsorship support from partners AiM Tech, Bethune-Cookman, Five Star Race Car Bodies, M2 Promotions, Perry’s Ocean Edge Resort in Daytona Beach, and Sunoco.
From the 12 combine participants, four will be selected for the 2018 season. Three of those drivers will race full-time in the NASCAR K&N Pro Series East, while also running full-time in the NASCAR Whelen All-American Series in a Late Model – totaling more than 30 races next season. In addition, the fourth driver will compete full-time in the Late Model program and serve as an alternate for the K&N Pro Series program.
In an expanded role for next year, Rev Racing will also select an additional four youth drivers at a future combine. Those drivers will participate in the organization’s expanded Legends and Bandelaros program next season. This past season, Rev Racing had two Legends cars in the Bojangles Summer Shootout. The team will also provide several driver development test sessions in its Late Model at Langley Speedway in Virginia and New Smyrna during the 2018 race season for prospective multicultural and female drivers.
2017 NASCAR Drive For Diversity Combine Drivers:
|Chase Cabre||Tampa, Fla.||20|
|Collin Cabre||Tampa, Fla.||23|
|Macy Causey||Seaford, Va.||16|
|Madeline Crane||Meansville, Ga.||19|
|Ernie Francis Jr.||Dania, Fla.||19|
|Ruben Garcia||Mexico City, Mexico||21|
|McKenna Haase||Carlisle, Iowa||20|
|Nicholas Sanchez||Homestead, Fla.||16|
|Ryan Vargas||La Mirada, Calif.||16|
|Fabian Welter||Mexico City, Mexico||21|
|Armani Williams||Grosse Point, Mich.||17|
|Brittney Zamora||Kennewick, Wash.||18|
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-Photo credit: Jason Christley / NASCAR